Coming up in June is a big day for cripples. It’s the 15th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the case of Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W.
Some people say the Olmstead decision did for cripples what Brown v. Board of Education did for African Americans. In Brown, the court declared racially segregated public education to be unconstitutional. In Olmstead, the court ruled that the involuntary segregating of cripples in places like nursing homes and state institutions was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Olmstead/Brown comparison is apt because Olmstead immediately brought bigotry and discrimination against cripples to a complete end once and for all in the same way Brown immediately brought bigotry and discrimination against African Americans to a complete end once and for all.
As we all know (because we were taught it in school), America is a nation of laws. We all also know the Supreme Court has the final say in matters of law. So when the Brown decision came down, even schools in the deepest most segregated south warmly opened their doors. Who can ever forget that glorious day?
In a less civilized nation, there might have been trouble. The federal government might have had to deploy troops to protect African American children trying to attend school from being drawn and quartered by angry white mobs. Some governor may have literally blocked the schoolhouse door in symbolic defiance.
The same thing happened in the case of Morgan v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation on interstate buses like Greyhound was unconstitutional. As soon as the high court spoke, all the white passengers scooted over and made room for their new neighbors. In a lawless land, it might have taken a daring campaign of non-violent civil disobedience to make sure this decision was enforced. This campaign would have needed a catchy name, like something like Freedom Riders.
And so it was with Olmstead, too. When the high court spoke, the nursing homes all unbolted their exit doors. The state institutions shut down with alacrity. All the state governments promptly reallocated their human services budgets so that no cripple would ever be segregated away against their will ever again.
So the next time you hear cripples whining about how their rights have been violated, throw the Olmstead decision in their faces. Remind them that the discrimination they bemoan was outlawed long ago by none other than the U.S. Supreme Court so therefore it no longer exists. Assure them that in this tolerant nation we may even see a day when a crippled person is elected president! Oh wait. That already happened. Four times! See? So what the hell are they whining about?
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